There is No “I” in Pie

October 26th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

As mentioned here and here, I don’t like to cook.  Or even to bake, really.  For me every meal is a trial.

There have been a few times when I actually have enjoyed my time in the kitchen.  Almost all have involved a glass or two of wine.

And, so when my smallest person returned from school the other day determined to enter a homemade apple pie in the farmers market pie contest, I immediately broke out in a cold sweat.

I have never baked a pie.

My pie-o-phobia is mostly due to years of extensive advice provided by well-intentioned gastronomes—freeze the flour, mix with a light hand, roll from the center, pre-cook the apples, heap them up high, wet the top crust—to me, this is dizzying.  But how do you dismiss a small pie-obsessed enterprising firebrand who makes a completely convincing case—Mom, we could do it together, she says.

In the end, I have learned that if you can make a purple Play-Doh pie (and my daughter is a self-proclaimed master), you can make an apple pie.

Oatmeal, hazelnuts, boiled cider, sour cream, ground cloves, lemon zest, pepper, melted apple jelly, vodka—all can do wonders for an apple pie, I’ve heard.  We stuck with a few simple ingredients we had on hand—fresh fruit, flour, butter, eggs, sugar.  Homemade pie can only be as yummy as the produce put into it.  We put in a mixture of local Honeycrisps, Macouns, Jonathans and Crispins.  Other late-fall blends could include Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Rome, Cortland, Braeburn, Rome, Idared, and Black Twig.


The Recipe

This recipe is perfect for making one double-crust apple pie.

Flaky Butter Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, chilled and diced
  • ½ cup ice water

In large, refrigerated bowl, combine flour and salt.  Cut in butter only until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in water, a Tbs at a time, until mixture forms a ball.  Don’t overwork the dough.  Shape dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.  Unwrap one dough disk and roll out on wax paper.  Invert over 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.  Ease dough into pan bottom and corners.  Refrigerate.

The Rest:

  • 6 cups apples, quartered, cored, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 1 Tbs lemon
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 eggwhite
  • 1tbs milk
  • 1 Tbs butter, frozen

Set pizza stone or cookie sheet on center rack of oven.  Preheat oven to 475.  Brush bottom piecrust lightly with egg white.  Bake for 5 minutes.  In large bowl, mix apples with lemon.  In separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add apples and mix.  Add salt and mix.  Arrange apples in layers on dough-lined pie plate.  Heap them up high, since they will cook down a bit.  Cover filling with diced butter.

Roll out second dough disk.  For a lattice-top crust, cut ¾ inch strips and carefully weave onto filling.  For a solid crust, center dough onto filling and cut steam vents near crust edge with paring knife.  Trim and tuck edges.  Place pie in freezer for 10 minutes.  Brush top with a light layer of milk and sugar.  Reduce oven temperature to 400.  Bake on preheated pizza stone until top crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Fasten foil rim around crust edge.  Continue baking until juices bubble thickly at pan edges and big slow bubbles rise up through the vents, about 35 more minutes.

Transfer pie to wire rack and (the ultimate challenge) commit to an hour-long mouthwatering wait.  At least.


The Story’s End

At this point, you are most likely at the edge of your seat wondering about our pie contest outcome.  To our complete surprise, the pie was a prize-winning one.  Yay!  And so, later that week at a friend’s house, composed and confident, in an attempt to replicate success, I made the same exact world-class pie and popped it into the oven.  And broiled it.  A total flop.  I will spare you the gory details.  And yet, I remain fully committed to trying this recipe out with fresh local Anjou pears next week, er tomorrow.

Now, go forth and bake ye some pie!  And at Thanksgiving dinner (It’s coming, you know!) when folks ask your kids, What have you been up to lately?  He or she may reply, Oh, nothing much.  Just hanging out. 

And making the best pie ever.




September 16th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Although our rabbit-eaten radishes were certainly nothing to whoop about this summer, we did have a tricky time keeping up with our cukes.  Started too many seeds and neglected to thin the strapping young things—they were so very eager and enterprising, producing a healthy progeny of slicers and picklers.  We planted too much.  We always do.

The best way to deal with all these cukes is to slice ‘em up and make several batches of pickles.  Given this situation, many folks with patience and minimal time constraints would opt to sterilize a case of canning jars and commit to a month-long mouth-watering wait.  In the interest of small hungry project managers craving speedy outcomes and post-project snacks, we most often opt for “refrigerator pickles,” or “bread and butter pickles,” or “quick pickles”—we call them Quickles.  Make them in the morning, and gobble them up at lunch.

As mentioned before, I do not like to cook.  My friend Jenny (who, unlike me, loves to cook and is really good at it), makes a superamazing Detox Soup—promise me you must save at least a few cukes for this recipe.  It is superfabuloso.  In comparison, Quickle-making is more of a magic trick than a recipe, like when the coy magician’s assistant enters a locked cage and transforms into a savage tiger.  Voila!  Tangy and sweet with a bit of a bite.  Mee-yow!

Your pickles are only going to be as yummy as the produce you start with.  Use the freshest pickling cucumbers you can find.  If you don’t grow your own, find locally-grown organic cukes.  Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer when the cucumbers were picked.  You will make the best pickles from cukes that were picked the same day, or, at the very least, within the last 2 to 3 days.  You can use any variety of cucumber you fancy, though we prefer using either “pickling” or “lemon” cucumbers.

You can make Quickles with just a few simple ingredients—fresh cukes, vinegar and salt—but a few extras will do wonders.  Feel free to experiment: garlic, dill, mustard seed, capers, hot or sweet peppers—branch out on your own.   The recipe below is perfect for a 1-quart Mason jar of pickles.

What You’ll Need:

1 ½ pounds (6 cups) pickling cucumbers, trimmed and cut to ¼-inch rounds

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup Diamond kosher salt (don’t use table salt)

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup sugar (white or light brown)

Shake of black pepper

Clean, freshly washed 1-quart Mason jar with lid


What You May Want to Add, Just Because You Can:

1 tsp mustard seed

¾ tsp celery seeds

1 cloves garlic, slivered

1 tsp dill seed or chopped fresh dill

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Bay leaf


What You’ll Do:

Place sliced cukes and onions in a colander within a large bowl.  Add salt and toss well.  Cover the mixture with ice.  Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.  Rinse thoroughly and drain.  Pat cukes dry with a paper towel.

In a large pot, bring vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and spices to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer.  When sugar has dissolved (about 10 minutes), add cukes and onions.  When mixture starts to boil again, remove from heat and cool.  Use a slotted spoon to pack the jar with the veggies within an inch of the rim.  Pour the warmish vinegar syrup into the jar to ½ inch from the rim.  Seal with the lid.  Place in the fridge.

Wait a few hours and eat ‘em up.  Sometimes they are so very seductive, we eat them all before they are completely chilled.

Quickles will stay fresh in the fridge for about 10 days.  The perfect balance of sweet and sour, they are picnic, potato salad, sandwich, and veggie burger champions.  In my humble opinion, there is no reason to ever purchase another jar of commercial pickles.

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